When teaching ESL reading skills to second language learners, the most important concept to convey is that reading, like writing, is a process. Strong readers don't just sit down with a text, read it once, and completely understand it. Whether readers are aware of it or not, they employ techniques like pre-reading and making predictions to connect the particular text they are presently reading with texts they have read before. For ESL students, breaking this process down into distinct steps is an effective way to build reading comprehension.
Getting ready to read is one of the most important parts of the reading process. Situating the text in terms of its genre and audience can help ESL students approach reading with a critical mindset. Before reading the assignment, ask students to think about the following questions to encourage them to construct a context for the reading:
Instructors will assist student comprehension by constructing questions about the reading for students to answer before they read the assigned text for the first time. Doing this helps students make predictions about the text and encourages critical interaction when they read. For example, if the students will be reading an article on animal rights, you may ask questions that help provide a background on the issue.
ESL students often struggle to understand new words and phrases. Reading exercises are an ideal way for these students to expand their working vocabularies. Instructors should create a vocabulary list of important or challenging words from the reading to hand out. Students can look up the words in a dictionary and write down the definitions. This exercise encourages ESL students to both learn the meanings of new words and phrases and to apply those meanings to the understanding of the assigned text.
Have the students read through the text one time. Their main purpose during the first reading is to achieve a working understanding of the text. After they finish reading, have them answer questions that connect the earlier steps of the reading process with their working understanding of the text.
After developing a working understanding of the text, students should look for the author's claims and assertions and determine if he/she backs them up effectively. Also, look for stylistic choices the author makes and analyze them for their effectiveness.
The above process of how to teach ESL reading skills can be extended in many different directions depending on the purpose of the assignment, the level of the student population, etc. Students could summarize the reading or respond to it by extending an aspect of the reading they found interesting. Instructors could also assign short answer questions that further encourage critical thinking or use the exercise as a starting point for a larger writing assignment.
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